SALMON ARM - The North Okanagan-Shuswap’s new official trustee isn’t getting into specifics about what lies ahead for School District 83, but some of his philosophy was revealed at a press conference today, including an emphasis on doing what’s best for the entire district, not necessarily individual communities.
Mike McKay was appointed to be the district’s new one-man board last week following the dismissal of all school trustees. The former Armstrong teacher, Surrey School District superintendent, and official trustee for the Cowichan Valley after that region’s board of education was fired won’t be moving to the North Okanagan as part of his one-year contract, but insists it won’t compromise his role.
“I’ll be here on a regular basis to achieve what a trustee should achieve,” McKay says.
He’ll be travelling to the district regularly, including for board meetings and public consultation sessions, and will do the rest of the work remotely. His first public board meeting is expected to be held sometime in July.
“I’m going to get out and connect with communities and I don’t just mean sitting in a board meeting and opening the doors and letting people in,” McKay says.
He says there will be consultation meetings held in each of the school district’s individual communities to gather input and perspectives.
“I’ll certainly understand community issues. I won’t pretend to represent the community. What I’m doing… whether as an elected trustee or an official trustee, (is to) act in the best interest of the school district, the education system and the education of each child,” he says.
While individual communities will help build the backdrop of what the district’s needs are, McKay says his job is to do what’s best for the region as a whole. A tendency to focus on individual communities rather than the entire district was one of special advisor Liz Watson’s critiques of the past school board.
Watson's report made 42 recommendations, the first of which was to dismiss the board. McKay plans to categorize the recommendations in terms of which are the most pressing. He wouldn’t comment on which are considered to be the most urgent, but confirmed he will be working on an evaluation process for senior staff, including the superintendent.
Discussions to close two local schools were put on hold until next year, and McKay wants to reassure the public that timeline remains in place and won’t be accelerated.
“I want to see what all the options are as we move forward,” he says.
With concerns around the number of in-camera, or private, meetings and lack of openness with the previous board, McKay says he’ll be working on keeping everything transparent and ensuring there are no surprises. He admits there are tough decisions ahead.
“This isn’t a matter of a pathway toward a perfect solution where everyone is satisfied and happy and having their needs met. We’re going to get to the place that supports student learning most substantially,” he says.
Supt. Glenn Borthistle was on hand at the press conference and says while it was difficult seeing the previous board dismissed, he’s happy to be moving forward and working towards restoring trust.
“I think most people in the system are appreciative of the fact that at least the future is defined and we know what we’re going into,” Borthistle says.
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